Contentious CUSO proposal up for consideration by NCUA Board

(Oct. 15, 2021) Finalizing a proposed – and contentious — rule on expanded lending and services provided by federal credit union (FCU) credit union service organizations (CUSOs) highlights the scheduled agenda for next week’s meeting of the NCUA Board.

In other action, the board will consider finalizing a rule that would add an “S” (Sensitivity to Market Risk) component to the existing CAMEL rating system and redefine the “L” (Liquidity Risk) component, thus updating the rating system from CAMEL to CAMELS.

The CUSO rule was proposed at the beginning of the year. It would deem as permissible for CUSOs the origination of any type of loan that an FCU may originate; and grant the NCUA Board additional flexibility to approve permissible CUSO activities and services. The agency also sought comments on broadening FCUs’ authority to invest in CUSOs.

But, from the beginning, the proposal has been controversial. It was released Jan. 14 on a 2-1 vote of the NCUA Board, with then-Board Member (now Chairman) Todd Harper dissenting. Harper, making his objection, noted the NCUA’s lack of direct supervisory authority over CUSOs and indicated the proposal raised potential consumer protection concerns. He said such a rule “will create a Wild West within the credit union space,” affording “little accountability for consumer protection” as CUSOs could exceed the restrictions applied to FCU lending in areas such as interest rate, loan term, and repayment.

Shortly after that board meeting, Harper was named chairman of the three-member board by the newly inaugurated President Joe Biden (D). He replaced current Board Member Rodney Hood in the position.

Since then, the proposal stalled. It was originally issued with a March 29 comment deadline (about 60 days after its proposal). The agency then extended the comment period another 30 days.

Last month, the board agreed to consider finalizing the rule (along with two other outstanding proposals) in upcoming board meetings over three months; the CUSO rule was the first on the list. However, controversy again dogged the proposed CUSO rule, as it (and the other two rules, to be considered in November and December) were approved for future, final consideration on a vote of 2-1, with Harper again dissenting. In doing so, he reiterated his concerns about the potential of the proposed CUSO rule for growing an “already unregulated space within the credit union system, with little accountability for protecting consumers and credit unions.”

In its comment filed on the proposal (on April 30), NASCUS noted as a key concern with the proposal that possible, additional reporting requirements for state credit unions could be a result of a finalized rule. NASCUS noted that the proposal could influence state credit unions considering collaborating with FCU investors in the formation and ownership of a CUSO, — which prompted the association to comment.

In some states, NASCUS pointed out, CUSOs owned by state credit unions already hold expanded lending power. The association noted, however, that the NCUA proposal could end up requiring additional reporting requirements that don’t today exist for SCUs. “NASCUS opposes extension of any additional reporting requirements to SCU CUSOs resulting from an expansion of FCU powers,” the association wrote.

The CAMELS proposal was put forth in January (the same meeting at which the CUSO proposal was issued) and was approved for public comment on a unanimous vote by the board. The proposal would bring the NCUA’s rating system up to date with a change that banking regulators incorporated decades ago and satisfy a recommendation the agency’s inspector general has been recommending for about the past five years.

Nearly five years ago, NASCUS wrote to NCUA urging the change and adding the “S” component. “NASCUS and state supervisory agencies encourage NCUA to consider earlier adoption of ‘CAMELS,’” NASCUS’ Lucy Ito wrote in the June 2016 letter to the board. “We again note that the separation of the ‘S’ component does not require a credit union to develop additional management system enhancements where market risk is already appropriately identified, measured, monitored and managed as part of the ‘L’ component.”

She also noted that in states that have adopted CAMELS (now totaling 24 – up from 16 when she wrote the letter), that regulators and credit unions have reported positive outcomes with nearly no additional regulatory burden.

In its comment letter filed last spring, NASCUS wrote that moving expeditiously on adding a “market risk sensitivity” component to the credit union examination system – that is, adding an “S” to “CAMEL” – would better align NCUA with state credit union and federal banking regulators that have already made the move. However, NASCUS added, there is no need to “reinvent the wheel and develop a credit union CAMELS Rating System that diverges from the established CAMELS system currently in use in bank supervision and in the states that have adopted CAMELS for credit union supervision.” NCUA has proposed definitions and components of the criteria to be used in assigning the “S” and “L” ratings.

Also on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting is a board briefing on cybersecurity. The NCUA Board meeting is scheduled to get underway at 10 a.m., and to be live-streamed via the Internet.


Board Agenda for the October 21, 2021 Meeting

NASCUS comment: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regarding CAMELS Rating System

NASCUS comment: Proposed Rule, Credit Union Service Organizations (CUSOs) – RIN 3133–AE95